Plan B branded “setback” and “body blow” for small businesses
Date published: 10 December 2021
Robert Downes, Federation of Small Businesses Development Manager for Greater Manchester
The Federation of Small Businesses and the CBI (Confederation of British Industry), which represents businesses of all sizes across all sectors, have said the latest restriction measures will be a “setback” for companies.
Plan B restrictions were announced on Wednesday 8 December, following ‘concerning data’ from South Africa, which is showing a rapid increase in hospitalisations due to the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
People have been advised to work from home where possible as of Monday 13 December, whilst face coverings will become compulsory in more public indoor venues, such as cinemas, theatres and places of worship. There will be exemptions in venues where it is not practical to wear one, such as when you are eating, drinking or exercising. For that reason, face masks will not be required in hospitality settings.
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has said the measures are “a body blow” for many small businesses, particularly in Greater Manchester and has called on the government to clarify new measures and enforcement.
Robert Downes, FSB Development Manager for Greater Manchester, said: “Plan B will be a body blow for many small businesses, who now face the prospect of not one but two disastrous Christmas trading periods back-to-back.
“We are now truly in unchartered territory as to what this might mean for many of them, it’s certainly not going to be good news for jobs and the economy. Let’s not forget either, Greater Manchester has been one of the worst hit regions for restrictions previously, the wounds here are deeper than most, and the ramifications greater.
“Our town and city centre economies - already reeling under the weight of change caused by Covid, over what’s now very nearly two years of disruption – face the prospect of more pain and uncertainty through the festive period, and on into 2022, just as many were hoping the worst of Covid was behind them.
“Service-based businesses typically rely on a fizzing festive period to get them through the lean winter months post-Christmas. If that fails to materialise for the second year running, without further support, the concern is that many won’t make it.
“While these new measures are aimed at limiting the spread of Covid during this crucial trading period, they will absolutely impact small businesses already beset by supply chain disruption, inflation and shortages. It may be an overused phrase but this really is a perfect storm moment, and at the worst possible time. So plans to control the virus need to be matched by plans to protect the economy and livelihoods.
“The message from government doesn’t really help, either. In one breath they are saying work from home, but in the next, they are saying don’t cancel the parties? This kind of confusion won’t help people – or businesses for that matter – make the decisions they need to.
“Many small businesses have already spent thousands on making their premises safer for customers and staff since Covid struck. So we’re urging the government to swiftly clarify where it stands on new measures, its strategy for enforcement, the expectations on small firms, and what help is in the offing.”
The CBI, which speaks for 190,000 businesses across the UK, has similar concerns, saying the restrictions will be “a big setback.”
Matthew Fell, CBI Chief Policy Director, said: “Fresh restrictions are a big setback for businesses, particularly for those in hospitality and retail who are in a critical trading period, as well as others such as transport.
“While Covid certification can support public health, careful implementation and enforcement will be required to assist businesses affected.
“It will be vital that the impact of these restrictions is closely monitored, and that the government is ready with targeted support as required.
“Omicron will quite likely not be the last variant. We need to create consistency in our approach and build confidence by reducing the oscillation between normal life and restrictions. Prioritising daily testing, rather than self-isolation, is a good step. Firms need continued forward guidance and a commitment from government to prioritise ongoing free, mass rapid testing as we learn to live with the virus.
“Meanwhile, firms will continue to do all they can to protect their staff and customers, including being as flexible as possible to enable employees to get their boosters.”
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